By Edie Schmierbach
---- — I was jumping with joy when I found out I had been awarded a grant to attend a printmaking workshop in 2012. I was to study stone lithography, a most elite and elaborate style of printmaking. I was to sketch detailed images on rare limestone blocks and by the end of the week I was to have produced several prints on high-quality paper.
That ain’t what happened.
A few weeks after signing up for the class, I was informed of a computer-registration glitch and that I would instead be a student in the class that was my second choice — relief printing. I was already practicing that process in St. Peter.
My disappointment changed to fear when I went to the workshop website to find out what I needed to bring for the class. I clicked on the names of my Frogman instructors — John Hancock and Charles Hancock — and a woodcut poster of the Texas duo. They were wearing fezzes and dark sunglasses.
The Amazing Hancock Brothers promoted themselves as masters of spoken-word chicanery, ritualized hijinx and ink slinging art. My anxieties rose as I continued to find more images of their work — skulls sporting sombreros, cockroaches and exotic women in uncomfortable positions.
When the second week in July 2012 arrived, I found myself in a Frogman’s studio where the Hancocks — who now sported big mustaches and huge glasses with thick black frames — were joking around with a multi-tattooed studio assistant. My classmates all were several years younger than me.
I would have bolted from that uncomfortable lily pad, but I was a couple hundred miles from home and the temperature outside was above 100 degrees. I stayed, expecting a week in hell rather than extended time to happily make art and friends.
Turns out those Hancock boys offered a double dose of printmaking expertise and practical advice on how to create art on a limited budget. My classmates were excited to have been granted their requests to study with the artistic brothers. “Cat,” the studio assistant, was part of a group of Latina printmakers from around the country who chose the Hancock workshop as a meeting place for creating art together.
By the end of the week, I had pages of notes on safe printmaking chemicals and cheap ways to apply ink to all kinds of surfaces besides paper. And I had lots of respect for both of my instructors. Patient Charles claimed me as a fellow expressionist and John — during a serious one-on-one conversation — confided that he had studied journalism.
During my stay in Vermillion, I shared a dorm apartment with three other women. One of my roommates, who had returned to Frogman’s for a second session in the complicated stone lithography class, told this tale toward the end of the workshop: By Thursday, one of her studio mates had been reduced to sobbing and staring at her designated stone.
I, on the other hand, had enjoyed every day and wished I had signed up for two weeks of classes.
Performance artists as well as printmakers, all of the workshop attendees were treated to a spoken-word presentation by the Hancocks which included a multi-screen slide show and music.
The performance was one of several lectures offered throughout the week when Frogman’s instructors discussed their genres of printmaking, during the students’ breaks from making art.
The annual July workshops date back to 1979 when Professor Lloyd Menard — a.k.a. Frogman — and several teachers from Iowa traveled to the Black Hills of South Dakota to draw. In 1981, printmaking was introduced as part of the summer experience. By 1996, the workshops had outgrown their confines and were moved to Beresford, S.D., where Menard operated a gallery and presses. Two years later, Frogman’s moved to Vermillion, S.D., and the facilities of the Warren M. Lee Center for Fine Arts at the University of South Dakota.
In addition to the intense courses, workshop organizer’s host special activities. An open portfolio viewing night offers participants a chance to show off and share works. Frogman’s traditional bowling tournaments are more about making team costumes and breaking the ice between workshop participants than about winning scores. (I was a member of the Gothic Expressionists, and we did pretty good in the lanes). Then there’s the barbecues, happy hours, karaoke, fireworks, gallery crawls and outings to music festivals.
Fellow grant recipient and St. Peterite Sara Leadholm also became a “Friend of Froggy’s” in 2012. The landscape painter studied intaglio/drypoint printmaking during the workshop’s first session of classes. Her instructor, University of Southern Indiana professor Andrew Kosten, taught Leadholm how to use several plates to print a multi-colored bouquet of zinnias and the tones of shadows stretching across a tree-lined ravine.
Like me, Leadholm was an elder in the studio. Most of her classmates had more experience with the intaglio process. She jumped into that pond of printmakers and when she surfaced at the end of the week, Leadholm held the benefits of disciplined study.
“I enjoyed every minute of it,” she said.
Registration for the 2014 Frogman’s classes closes April 15. For more information, call (712) 352-2423.
Instructors vary from year to year for most of the classes. Although the Amazing Hancock Brothers are not on the 2014 roster, John Hancock plans to return to teach there again and to go bowling with fellow printmakers.
“The people at Frogman’s are my tribe. They are my friends.”